Is Padres closer Josh Hader as good as he has ever been?

Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Mandatory Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

When the Padres sent Dinelson Lamet, Taylor Rogers, Robert Gasser, and Esteury Ruiz to Milwaukee for Josh Hader, they expected to be getting one of, if not the best, closer in baseball. For the majority of his time in San Diego before the postseason, Hader was anything but that.

Now? All that has changed.

Not only has he returned to form, but he is also on a historic run.

Hader last allowed an earned run on September 5. Since that game, in 15 appearances, he owns a 0.00 ERA while striking out 23 against just two walks. He has allowed just two baserunners in 5 1/3 postseason innings.

Padres fans will never forget what he did to the Dodgers’ All-Star trio of Mookie Betts, Trea Turner, and Freddie Freeman. He darn near had an immaculate inning to seal the Division Series win over Los Angeles.

Over the last four seasons, you could make a legitimate argument that Hader has been the best closer in baseball. He won three Trevor Hoffman NL Reliever of the Year Awards over the last four seasons and is a four-time All-Star. He has three consecutive 34-plus save seasons over the last three full seasons of baseball. In 2021, he had a dizzying 1.23 ERA over 60 appearances.

However, during the summer months of this season, he did not look like himself. Between June 25 and August 28, spanning 21 appearances, he was scorched for a 13.76 ERA, with hitters batting .388 against him. He looked completely lost, and some fans called him “broken.” Even after being traded to San Diego, he struggled initially, with an unbelievable 17.55 ERA over his first nine games in brown and gold.

Since then, something has clicked for the Maryland native. Not only is he mowing down hitters at a historic rate, but he has also reached new heights with his velocity. Before this 2022 postseason, he had only logged one single pitch above 99.5 mph in his major league career. This postseason with the Padres, three of his pitches of exceeded 99.5 mph, including one that registered at 100.0 mph that struck out Alec Bohm in Wednesday’s Game 2 victory.

Along with velocity, the spin rate of his changeup has increased this season. This allows it to move around the zone more and confuse hitters. His changeup becoming a viable weapon, along with his sinker and slider, makes him nearly unhittable.

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He has a career 15.3 strikeouts-per-nine-innings rate. His career-high mark for any single season was in 2019, at 16.4. This postseason that has been ratcheted up to 16.9.

The 28-year-old lefty has been instrumental in the Padres’ postseason success. This team now finds itself tied with the Phillies in the National League Championship Series, three wins away from a National League pennant and a World Series berth.

Is this the best Hader has ever been? At least in sheer velocity, changeup spin rate, and strikeout rate, yes, it is.

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